It’s a long way from Bondi Beach to a wet day on the canvass along Lord Edward St in Kilmallock, Co Limerick.
Like many others, James Heffernan, 36, left for Oz in the noughties. One day, while walking along the most famous beach in the world, he got a call from the Labour Party.
Within days, he was on his way back home to Kilfinane to rekindle his political ambitions. After winning a seat on the old Limerick County Council in 2009, he ran for the Dáil in 2011 and made it to the fourth count — finishing just over 700 votes off Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins. His final tally came to 10,104, with 17.6% of the first preferences.
He was subsequently elected to the Seanad and, after breaking from Labour, now carries the Social Democrats flag. With most of the big hitters in the three-seat Limerick County lined up along the western fringes of the constituency, a huge swathe of territory is in his direct line of fire.
He has marshalled a formidable election team from his home base in Kilfinane.
Walking through Kilmallock, he is flanked by his father, Pat, and a close family friend, Jackie McCarthy.
And he couldn’t have better canvassing company: Pat and Jackie both hurled for Limerick, the former playing in two Munster finals and the latter winning four county senior hurling medals with Kilmallock.
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A man passing on his bike stops to chat about the current crop of hurlers. He says: “When Pat Heffernan hit a fella, he stayed hit. The Tipp lads still carry the marks he left on them.”
Pat, a sprightly 71, meets Marie Godsil, a mother of two who lives at Cross of the Tree, Knocklong.
Pat recalls that Marie played camogie and Gaelic football with his two daughters, Karen and Ailish — a team he trained for years. Pat tells Marie: “We go back a long way. Ye were a great team, and very dedicated.”
Marie then has a chat with the candidate and assures him: “I’ll give you the vote. It’s great to see old friends again. I’m following you on Facebook.”
Due to old injuries, James Heffernan is a regular visitor to the Risen Physiotherapy clinic, across the street from the county council offices and the library. Yesterday, he came calling for the vote.
Indian-born physio Ram Chellappan and wife Jinm greet him warmly. Ram says: “James has been a friend since we came to live in Kilmallock.”
Ram and Jinm have settled in Kilmallock with their sons, Akshay, 6, and Aditya, 11. Ram, 43, assures James of their support and asks for a bundle of canvassing cards to leave in the waiting room.
Jackie McCarthy, 66, says he turned his attention to golf after putting down the hurley, playing off a handicap of one.
Jackie, who lives in Ardpatrick, said: “James is getting a very good reaction and he has worked hard.”
Down the street and the canvass team troop into the post office. James mingles with customers and tells them that a priority of his is to protect and give more power to rural post offices and credit unions.
James knows more than most the huge role the post office plays in rural Ireland.
“Our family have been running the post office in Kilfinane since my grandparents’ time,” he says. “One time we had a pub and small shop there. As a child, I remember helping with the phone switchboard, putting all the calls through.”
While he has staked out his main canvass around Kilfinane, Kilmallock, Bruff, Hospital, Ballylanders, Knockainey, Galbally, and Pallasgreen, he also hopes for a positive response from the most western part of the county.
“I have been very involved in the opposition to the proposed gasification plant at Gortadroma and attended the public meetings and have met with the local people,” he says, adding that he planned to be at last night’s public meeting in Shanagolden.
“ What Limerick City and County Council members in that area did was a disgrace. They ignored the local people.”
James recalls he has a lot of contacts in the Adare area from the days he had ambitions to be a jockey.
“After my Leaving Cert I went to Michael Hourigan’s yard,” he says. “I rode out every morning and did all the work that has to be done in a big training yard. I have great admiration for people in the racing industry. It’s very hard work, seven days a week.”
The venture into racing came to a halt when he suffered a broken arm in a hurling match.
This weekend, his girlfriend Lynn Ruanne, from Tallaght, will join him on the campaign trail.
“Lynn knows all about elections. as she’s president of the Trinity College students union,” says James.
With the Ballyhouras at his back, Heffernan faces a vast battlefield which reaches west to the Shannon estuary beyond Glin.
As dad Pat says: “It’s all to play for.”